Aunt Becky’s court date is set, Operation Varsity Blues rolls on

It’s getting real for Lori Loughlin and her husband Massimo Giannulli. A court date has been set for the couple’s trial in Boston for their participation in a college admissions fraud scheme.

A last-ditch effort was made by attorneys for Loughlin and Giannulli for a postponement due to newly acquired evidence that the legal team thinks may exonerate them. The request for postponement was denied. Their trial is set to begin on October 5. Jury selection will begin on September 28.

The couple has been charged with three counts of conspiracy: conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and honest services mail and wire fraud; conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery; and conspiracy to commit money laundering. A spokesman for the US Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts said they will stand trial with six other parents. They have pleaded not guilty.

They will stand trial alongside six other parents charged in the scam: Gamal Abdelaziz, Diane Blake, Todd Blake, John Wilson, Homayoun Zadeh and Robert Zangrillo, the spokesperson said.

The eight-defendant trial means Boston’s federal courtroom will have row after row of defendants and their legal teams this fall, said Elie Honig, a CNN legal analyst and former federal and state prosecutor.
“A trial with eight defendants is going to take a long time. There’s just no way around that,” he said. “But (it’ll be) a heck of a lot shorter than eight one-defendant trials.”

Loughlin and Giannulli claim they were only making donations to USC, the school their two daughters wanted to attend, though they used a counselor to do so, not the traditional way donations are made. Typically, an interested person would go through the college’s development office instead of an outsider.

Prosecutors say the $500,000 — including $100,000 to former USC athletics official Donna Heinel and $400,000 to Singer’s fake charity — constituted illegal bribes. Heinel has pleaded not guilty and repeatedly has declined to comment. Singer has pleaded guilty to several charges and is cooperating with the prosecution in the case.

But attorneys for Loughlin and Giannulli have argued the money was part of a legitimate practice in which universities “regularly solicit donations from the families of prospective students” that can impact the students’ chances of admission. They have also accused prosecutors of withholding evidence that they say exonerates their clients.

The couple may have been naive but there are emails that show Giannulli bragging about working the system to get his daughters accepted into the school. This isn’t supposed to be the system. Parents who donate to fund a building or a fellowship for a visiting professor or some such reason is one thing. Parents paying someone not employed by the school (Rick Singer) who then cuts a deal with that school’s coaches to justify admittance for bogus athletic abilities is quite another thing. I’m not a lawyer but it seems to me that this has been Loughlin and Giannulli’s biggest problem from the beginning. Singer pitched his plan for their acceptance as a side door, not the normal front door into the school. That should have been a red flag. It probably was but the parents chose to ignore it. The front door was for those with good grades and high test scores. The side door scheme was pitched to parents as cheaper than donating a million dollars or more for a building. The plan to use someone to take the entrance tests for their kids, or to alter scores should have been the most obvious red flag.

Singer cut a deal for himself and is cooperating with prosecutors.

In another development from this college admissions fraud scandal, the heiress to the Hot Pockets fortune, Michelle Janavs, was sentenced to five months in prison. That is the longest sentence to come down for any of the parents so far.

Michelle Janavs, former executive of Chef America and heiress to the Hot Pocket fortune, was sentenced to five months in prison for paying $100,000 to fix her daughters’ college entrance exams and agreeing to pay twice that amount to sneak one girl into USC as a bogus beach volleyball player.

According to the LA Times, Janavs pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit fraud and money laundering, admitting that she paid a Newport Beach college admissions consultant to rig ACT exams for her daughters and bribe a USC administrator to misrepresent the older girl as an elite beach volleyball player.

In addition to serving five months behind bars Janavs must pay a fine of $250,000 and remain on supervised release for two years.

She is said to be worth $4 billion so a fine of $250,000 isn’t a concern for her – the prison time is the stiffest sentence passed down so far. Seventeen parents have had their day in court to date. She is one of the four parents who reversed their pleas to ‘not-guilty’ in 2019. Prosecutors were seeking a two-year sentence for Janavs. It turns out she’s a serial offender, having done this for all of her children.

Prosecutors had been seeking nearly two years in prison for Michelle Janavs for her role in helping buy her children’s way into elite universities across the country. The government called her one of the “most culpable parents” they had charged in the case and said she only accepted responsibility when backed into a corner.

Unlike some of the parents who had come before her and were sentenced, Janavs was also hit with a money laundering conspiracy charge — something prosecutors tacked on for parents who did not quickly plead guilty to their crimes.

“I’m so very sorry I tried to create an unfair advantage for my children,” she told the court Tuesday.

Janavs is scheduled to report to prison on April 7.

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